Goodbye BC and AD, Hello CE and BCE?

It’s what we all learned in school: history is divided into two periods, BC and AD. BC stood for Before Christ and AD stood for… well, we were never really sure, but we knew it sort of meant "after Christ" (it actually stands for Anno Domini, Latin for "the year of our Lord.")

But now it looks like that might all be changing. In an attempt to be more sensitive to non-Christians, academics have begun using the abbreviations CE and BCE, for Common Era and Before Common Era. These terms would be direct replacements for BC and AD – thus 2007 CE is exactly the same as 2007 AD. CE and BCE are always placed after the number, and are sometimes written with small capital letters or with dots (e.g., CE or B.C.E.)

As with any change, there are supporters and critics of this move:

Arguments against:

• Abandoning the use of BC/AD insults Christians by ignoring the Christian origins of the modern calendar system and Christianity’s transformative effects to the world’s culture.
• Older textbooks will still have BC/AD notation, which will make it confusing for future students.
• To arbitrarily assign new names to our calendar system is to deny the fact that it is based on an actual event – the birth of Christ.
• This move discriminates against Christian traditions while preserving the names of days and months derived from pagan gods: June from Juno, Thursday from Thor, etc
• CE and BCE have in common the letters "CE", making it easier to confuse the two.

Arguments in favor:

• Two thirds of the people on earth are not Christian, and making them use the term AD forces them to tacitly agree that Jesus is Lord.
• Both BCE and CE are used as suffices, whereas AD can be used as a prefix or suffix which may cause problems in computer usage.
• Although some argue that BC/AD should not be offensive to non-Christians because the terms have lost their religious significance, the resistance to BCE/CE coming from many Christians shows this is not the case.
• Since the two sets of terms are equivalent the change can happen with a minimum of confusion.

It should be noted that not all the opposition to CE/BCE springs from religious convictions. Some scientists believe that we should go further and use the date of some other seminal event as the start of the modern era. Choices for this event range from the birth of agriculture to Columbus’s arrival in the New World to the start of the Atomic Age at the end of World War II.

Regardless of the arguments, it seems certain that BCE/CE is set to be the new standard. From academic papers to textbooks to museum displays, BC/AD is quickly vanishing. But in an attempt to salvage a bit of victory, many Christians have accepted CE/BCE, but with a difference: they simply decide the "C"stands for Christ.

If you can’t beat them, out abbreviate them.

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